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Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero [Hardcover]

David Maraniss
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 25 2006
On New Year's Eve 1972, following eighteen magnificent seasons in the major leagues, Roberto Clemente died a hero's death, killed in a plane crash as he attempted to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. David Maraniss now brings the great baseball player brilliantly back to life in "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero," a book destined to become a modern classic. Much like his acclaimed biography of Vince Lombardi, "When Pride Still Mattered," Maraniss uses his narrative sweep and meticulous detail to capture the myth and a real man.Anyone who saw Clemente, as he played with a beautiful fury, will never forget him. He was a work of art in a game too often defined by statistics. During his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he won four batting titles and led his team to championships in 1960 and 1971, getting a hit in all fourteen World Series games in which he played. His career ended with three-thousand hits, the magical three-thousandth coming in his final at-bat, and he and the immortal Lou Gehrig are the only players to have the five-year waiting period waived so they could be enshrined in the Hall of Fame immediately after their deaths.There is delightful baseball here, including thrilling accounts of the two World Series victories of Clemente's underdog Pittsburgh Pirates, but this is far more than just another baseball book. Roberto Clemente was that rare athlete who rose above sports to become a symbol of larger themes. Born near the canebrakes of rural Carolina, Puerto Rico, on August 18, 1934, at a time when there were no blacks or Puerto Ricans playing organized ball in the United States, Clemente went onto become the greatest Latino player in the major leagues. He was, in a sense, the Jackie Robinson of the Spanish-speaking world, a ballplayer of determination, grace, and dignity who paved the way and set the highest standard for waves of Latino players who followed in later generations and who now dominate the game.The Clemente that Maraniss evokes was an idiosyncratic character who, unlike so many modern athletes, insisted that his responsibilities extended beyond the playing field. In his final years, his motto was that if you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth. Here, in the final chapters, after capturing Clemente's life and times, Maraniss retraces his final days, from the earthquake to the accident, using newly uncovered documents to reveal the corruption and negligence that led the unwitting hero on a mission of mercy toward his untimely death as an uninspected, overloaded plane plunged into the sea.


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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If ever a baseball player were deemed worthy of canonization, right fielder Roberto Clemente might be the one. Jackie Robinson may have suffered greater hardships during his career, but Clemente's nobility, charity and determination make him far more appropriate for a postage stamp than a Nike commercial. After 18 distinguished seasons, the Pirate star with the astonishing throwing arm died in a 1972 plane crash while en route to deliver relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. Considering the potential for hagiography, Washington Post staffer and Clinton biographer Maraniss sticks to the facts in this respectful and dispassionate account. Clemente is a deceptively easy subject for a biographer: his acquired halo tinges past events and the accounts of his colleagues (although close friend Vic Power is frequently quoted to both admiring and frank effect). Clemente wasn't entirely virtuous—he had a temper and was sometimes given to pouting—but his altruism appears to have been a genuine product of his impoverished Puerto Rican upbringing. Maraniss deftly balances baseball and loftier concerns like racism; he presents a nuanced picture of a ballplayer more complicated than the encomiums would suggest, while still wholly deserving them. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When Roberto Clemente died on New Year's Eve 1972 while delivering relief aid to the victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake, his legacy as both cultural and sporting icon was secured for the ages. His baseball credentials were never in doubt--he was indisputably the best right fielder of all time. He was also the first great Latin American baseball star. Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi (1999), chronicles the life story of a man who passionately valued his heritage and inspired others to do so. He championed other Latin players and used his fame to make the U.S. a more tolerant home for all Latinos, regardless of athletic abilities. Along with the inspirational and multicultural side of Clemente's story, Maraniss delivers a mother lode of wonderful baseball lore: the fact that Clemente's unorthodox "basket" catch came about as a result of playing softball as a youngster; the remarkable saga (full of bluffs and subterfuge) of how, despite being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, he came to be a Pittsburgh Pirate. Maraniss chooses his sports subjects carefully. As Lombardi represented the best of a time past, Clemente embodies the best of what we dream for the future: dignity, pride, tolerance, and an obligation to make the world a better place. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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THE FAMILIAR SOUNDS OF MODERN BASEBALL, PINGS OF aluminum bats punctuating the steady drone of a crowd, can be heard from the street a half-block away. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
By far this was the most enjoyable read of all baseball bio's. Concetrates on the man and the times. Doesn't get bogged down in contract details and salary disputes. Delves deep into the racisim of the fifties in the USA and the plight of Black and Latino ball players and their rise to prominance in the major leagues. Overall an excellant book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars First; an honorable human being Feb. 15 2011
By Marc Ranger TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
If you take the time to sit and read this marvelous piece of work, you'll find out that yes, Roberto Clemente was a tremendous baseball player, an all-around athlete with superior skills.

However, what stands out isn't his many and outstanding baseball accomplishments.

Roberto Clemente will be remebered has a world-class human being.
A person who went out of his way to give generously his time to sick childrens. An individual who cared more about happiness and well being than about money.

A shining star who was willing to give his very life in support of
strangers who needed help.

Roberto Clemente was all that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  96 reviews
59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The rest of us were just players - Clemente was a prince" May 3 2006
By Theo Logos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Roberto Clemente was a legendary ballplayer - a .317 career batting average, 3000 hits, four N.L. batting titles, twelve gold gloves, 1966 National League MVP, 1971 World Series MVP, and the first Latino elected to the Hall of Fame. Impressive as these statistics and facts may be, they cannot capture Roberto's greatness. To try to capture Clemente this way, David Maraniss writes, "is like chemists trying to explain Van Gogh by analyzing the ingredients of his paint. Clemente was art, not science...it was hard to take one's eyes off him". Maraniss' new biography of Clemente, (the first since shortly after he died) captures the many facets of this complex man who truly did live his life both on and off the diamond with passion and grace.

Where the earlier Clemente biographies, written shortly after his death, were little more that tributes and eulogies for the fallen hero, Maraniss writes of the man in all his complexity, and though he deservedly calls him a hero, he does not treat him as a saint. Notoriously thin skinned and prickly, Clemente had a career-long feud with the press. Though it was aggravated by the racism of the time, (Clemente was infuriated when the press would quote his interviews using phonetic spelling to capture his accent) and the language barrier, his sensitive personality, often perceiving slights where they were not intended, was equally to blame. He was obsessed with his health and ailments, complaining constantly about his pain, and some accused him of being a goldbricker and a hypochondriac, yet he seemed to play at his best when in his greatest pain, and ended his career breaking the record for most games played in a Pirates uniform. He constantly and vociferously complained about how he did not get the recognition that he deserved, and played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series.

Clemente was baseball's last hero, not just for his greatness on the field, but for his life off the baseball diamond. He constantly (and quietly) visited children in hospitals throughout his career, both in the states, and in his beloved Puerto Rico. He dreamed of building a sports city for the children of Puerto Rico (a dream fulfilled after his death). He paved the way for Latin players in the major league, and mentored many of them throughout his career. He once said, "If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth", and he lived by that line. And of course, he died a hero's death, attempting to bring aid to victims of Nicaragua's earthquake. Steve Blass, Clemente's teammate, put it best - "The rest of us were just players - Clemente was a prince."

Maraniss has written a worthy biography that is more than just a sports book. The incredible character that Clemente was - the passionate grace with which he lived his life, and the heroic way in which he lost it should interest even those only marginally interested in baseball. I highly recommend it to all.

Theo Logos
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Star Is Born April 26 2006
By Robert W. Kellemen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I still recall where I was (family living room) and who I was with (my Dad) when we heard the news of Roberto Clemente's tragic death. As a pre-teen boy, at the time all I knew of Clemente was his batting average and his bullet arm. Then, as details trickled out concerning the events surrounding his death--his mission of mercy to people in need, I learn more and more about Clemente the man.

Maraniss does a superb job telling both a baseball story and a biography. He also deftly balances the many remarkable traits of the man, with the few flaws he, like every human being, had.

If you love baseball history, you'll love "Clemente." If you love a "poor boy makes good" story, you'll love "Clemente."

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," "Soul Physicians," "Spiritual Friends," and the forthcoming "Sacred Friendships: Listening to the Voices of Women Soul Care-Givers and Spiritual Directors."
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clemente April 15 2006
By Kim Eisler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was carrying an advance copy of this book on the Washington Metro and several people stopped to ask me how they could get it. They won't be disappointed. At times Maraniss can be a little wordy like when he takes a page and a half to list all the players on some labor committee and he takes a long time to get to the end, and when he does get to the end, it turns into an NTSA report. I have written a full review at [...] and I encourage all potential readers to find my full opinion at that location. Having said that, this is an absolutely amazingly complete and fascinating account of one of my favorite all time players and the baseball era in which many of us just turned 50 somethings lived. Juan Pizarro, Vic Power, whose pre-swing I emulated all my life, they all come alive on these pages. Clemente of course in all his pride and arrogance. From 1960 to 1971, two pennant seassons, baseball and the world changed a lot. Clemente would be happy that his story was told not by a hack baseball writer, but by a world class biographer. Who does the player and his tragic, heroic story more than justice.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful biography that captures the spirit and life of Roberto Clemente May 19 2006
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a young boy growing up near Chicago, I attended countless baseball games at both Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field. Visits to those stadiums were a routine and regular occurrence. But each year a special treat would take place for my brother and me. My father would travel with us 90 miles north of Chicago to Milwaukee County Stadium to watch the Milwaukee Braves. I remember a game played one evening in the early 1960s when the Braves battled the Pittsburgh Pirates. Henry Aaron was the Braves right fielder and that evening he homered and played his normal exemplary game. But the star was number 21, Roberto Clemente, the Pirates right fielder who was then establishing himself as one of baseball's young stars. Clemente had two hits and showed extraordinary speed as he ran the bases. In the field he was flawless, and uncorked an incredible throw from right field as he cut down a Braves baserunner attempting to go from first to third on a hit. Even my father, not much of a baseball fan, was impressed, remarking to me, "Who is that 21, he is quite a player!" While the years have diminished some of the details of that game played more than 40 years ago, I have never forgotten the night when perhaps the two greatest right fielders of their generation performed on a weeknight evening in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

David Maraniss selects unique subjects for his biographical talents. For reasons known only to him, he has limited his subjects to the fields of politics and sports. While these two topics may seem diverse and unrelated, in many ways they are part of a common thread. Politics and sports are a unique juxtaposition of two significant aspects of our culture, where success and failure are often public and fleeting. Many people have strong opinions about both topics and do not hesitate to publicly share those views. Politicians and sports figures often lead significantly different lives in public than in private. Thus it was with legendary Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi, whose life Maraniss chronicled in WHEN PRIDE STILL MATTERED: A Life of Vince Lombardi. So it is again in CLEMENTE: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, a superb account of not just a man, but of an era when life in America and life in baseball underwent cataclysmic changes that profoundly altered the characteristics of both entities.

The Puerto Rican-born Clemente began his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954, an era of baseball far different from the present game. In the '50s, ownership ruled and players were commodities bought and sold at the team's whim. Clemente signed with the Dodgers because their New York location would allow greater opportunity for his family to see him play. After one year in the Brooklyn organization, the talent-rich Dodgers could not protect Clemente on their roster and he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. By 1955, when Clemente joined the Pirates to commence his 17-year Hall of Fame career, there were 28 black players in the major leagues including many who are now considered the greatest in the game.

But in the '50s, baseball was still faced with issues surrounding the influx of African-American and Latin players. Spring training in Florida found the players confronting segregated facilities for food and housing. Clemente often remarked that spring training was like being in prison. He would not forget the slights, both intended and unintended, of his time in the South. Throughout his career Clemente was a strong and compassionate supporter of the Civil Rights movement.

By 1960, Clemente was a bona-fide star in the National League. That year he led the pirates to the National League pennant. The 1960 World Series between the Pirates and New York Yankees was one of the fall classic's memorable battles. It went back and forth, and the seventh game ended with Bill Mazeroski's winning home run. Maraniss is superb in his recounting of the Series; his writing recreates the drama and tension of a hard-fought battle between two outstanding teams.

Throughout his baseball career Clemente labored under many difficulties. As a Latin player he was forced to battle the stereotype of laziness often attributed to players of his nationality. He hated the fact that sportswriters who spoke no Spanish and made no effort to learn the language mocked him by quoting his broken English. Late in his career, after another outstanding performance in the 1971 World Series, Clemente obtained a measure of revenge. As television cameras circled him for comments after his most valuable player performance in the Series, Clemente spoke first in Spanish to his parents in Puerto Rico.

CLEMENTE is more than a story of baseball, because Roberto Clemente was more than a baseball player. Throughout his life, and even in his death as he led a mission of mercy to earthquake-savaged Nicaragua, he cared about others. He lived his life as a compassionate person and much of what he did was unknown to the media. He was a great man who also happened to be a great baseball player. David Maraniss has captured the spirit and life of Roberto Clemente in this truly beautiful biography. A great biography tells the reader about a person and about the era in which he lived. In that scorebook Maraniss is two for two, both hits being home runs.

--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Its about time... May 2 2006
By Robert Busko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Its about time a book on Clemente was written by a great biographer. Maraniss cut his teeth writing about Bill Clinton, and I'm glad he finally got to a subject that deserves his impressive skills.

Clemente wasn't the best baseball player of all time, but he was and is the best outfielder to ever have played the game. Period. As I read this book I kept thinking about the many spoiled, mediocre primadonnas we pay so much attention today in the world of sports. Clemente had a temper thats true but don't we all? He didn't do drugs, performance enhancing or deadening. He came from a impoverished background and new what hard work was all about....he asked for nothing that he didn't earn. Maraniss does a good job of show casing Clemente against some of the down right brats that play the game today (not all are bad by the way) whether he wanted to or not and he does a good job of it also.

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero is about a player that put others first, both in and out of baseball. He was a man of grace on and off the field. Hurray for David Maraniss for a job well done. Well researched with appropriate information provided from the people that knew Clemente, this book is a must read for the sports enthusiast. If you're cynical about professional sports today, Clemente is a breath of fresh air.
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